Reducing stress over the holidays


Karen Kelley RDH

Reducing stress over the holidays

I love the holidays with all the lights, delicious food, and good company, but they can be accompanied by so many activities; shopping, baking, cooking and so many other things that can fun, but can also be stressful. I feel sad when someone tells me they hate the holiday season. I think much of that feeling of dread is from the stress surrounding the holiday that can come from a variety of reasons.


We all know that stress is bad for our overall health. Stress can be a factor in “heart disease, including heart attacks, skin conditions, including psoriasis and shingles, digestive disorder flare-ups, such as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease, immune disorders, including flare-ups of multiple sclerosis and lupus, anxiety, depression, and insomnia and worsening pain, if you already have a pain disorder such as arthritis, back pain, and muscle spasms.”


To avoid getting sick at the holidays and having the sickness derail plans for a joyful holiday season, Ronald Nathan, PhD, clinical professor at Albany Medical College in New York says that, “When we think about the holidays, we dwell on the past and what went wrong, or we romanticize it and make it impossible to re-create,” He counsels people to carefully examine their thoughts and expectations, and not drive themselves crazy finding “the perfect gift” or planning “the perfect party.” “Instead,” he says, “lower your expectations, and overestimate — rather than underestimate — your time.”

We need to ease up on ourselves, plan well and if things don’t get done exactly the way we planned or the Christmas cards don’t get out on time, give ourselves a break and try to enjoy the time spent with family and friends.

If the holidays are particularly painful because of a loss of loved ones or other stress inducing memories during the season, consider doing something completely different so the expectations are changed completely. Go out of town, find some new friends to spend the holidays with, go serve Christmas dinner at a shelter. If you’re alone for the holidays, plan to have a meal at your home and invite new or old friends to spend the time with you. Let your friends know you will be alone, your friends and family will want you to be included. Also, don’t forget to be active and continue your normal exercise routine. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress.

Here are 10 ideas for reducing stress from WebMD

  1. Meditate

A few minutes of practice per day can help ease anxiety. “Research suggests that daily medidation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress,” says psychologist Robbie Maller Hartman, PhD, a Chicago health and wellness coach.

  1. Breathe Deeply

Take a 5-minute break and focus on your breathing. Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.

  1. Be Present

Slow down. “Take 5 minutes and focus on only one behavior with awareness,” Tutin says. Notice how the air feels on your face when you’re walking and how your feet feel hitting the ground. Enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food. When you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.

  1. Reach Out

Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others — preferably face to face, or at least on the phone. Share what’s going on. You can get a fresh perspective while keeping your connection strong.

  1. Tune In to Your Body

Mentally scan your body to get a sense of how stress affects it each day. Lie on your back, or sit with your feet on the floor. Start at your toes and work your way up to your scalp, noticing how your body feels.

  1. Decompress

Place a warm heat wrap around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and relax your face, neck, upper chest, and back muscles. Remove the wrap, and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away tension.

  1. Laugh Out Loud

A good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally. It lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, and boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which help your mood. Lighten up by tuning in to your favorite sitcom or video, reading the comics, or chatting with someone who makes you smile.

  1. Crank Up the Tunes

Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. “Create a playlist of songs or nature sounds (the ocean, a bubbling brook, birds chirping), and allow your mind to focus on the different melodies, instruments, or singers in the piece,” Benninger says. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to more upbeat tunes — or singing at the top of your lungs!

  1. Get Moving

You don’t have to run in order to get a runner’s high. All forms of exercuse, including yaga and walking, can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs.

  1. Be Grateful

Keep a gratitude journal or several (one by your bed, one in your purse, and one at work) to help you remember all the things that are good in your life.

“Being grateful for your blessings cancels out negative thoughts and worries,” says Joni Emmerling, a wellness coach in Greenville, NC.

Use these journals to savor good experiences like a child’s smile, a sunshine-filled day, and good health. Don’t forget to celebrate accomplishments like mastering a new task at work or a new hobby.

When you start feeling stressed, spend a few minutes looking through your notes to remind yourself what really matters.


In our family, we’ve had a difficult year, so I’m expecting to use many of these ideas to help us not just get through the holidays but to enjoy them. Stress is literally a killer so try some of these ideas to see if they help you also.

Take care of yourself and stay healthy!!

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